Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2012, 7:17 pm
Structural challenges, poor vetting, straight party voting hurt RI County GOP
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By Eric Timmons, firstname.lastname@example.org
To say local Republicans had a bad day in the "office" on Election Day would be an understatement.
They lost their congressman, fell flat in an attempt to win control of the Rock Island County Board and were beaten in local state and county office races.
State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, one of the party's losing candidates, likes to remind people that until a few years ago, Republicans barely had a presence in Rock Island County.
That changed in 2010 when the GOP won a handful of seats on the county board, sent Rep. Morthland to Springfield and elected U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, to Congress.
This year, Republicans had been confident of building on that success, but historical trends in Rock Island County during presidential elections suggested they faced an uphill battle.
Rock Island County Republican Party Chairwoman Susie Carpentier said the GOP faced structural challenges such as having fewer boots on the ground to turn out the party's vote.
"Democrats had a better ground game than we had," she said. "They had the union manpower on election day making calls and knocking on doors, and we don't have the troops for that."
The GOP fielded more candidates for local offices than they had in decades, including young hopefuls such as Jim Wozniak for state's attorney, Tony Holland for county recorder and Neil Anderson for state representative, all of whom lost by a wide margin.
On election night, hundreds of Republicans gathered at The Stern Center for what Ms. Carpentier said was the biggest GOP election party she'd seen.
But as results began to filter in, the mood soured.When Rep. Schilling arrived to make his concession speech close to 11 p.m., several party members were in tears.
"I think the reason we were so taken aback by it was that in 2010 we caught the Democrats off guard," Mr. Holland said. "But hats off to them."
Next time, Mr. Holland said he'd like to see the Republicans vet their candidates more carefully."I think we have an issue with who we put up as candidates."
There was a tendency to take whoever asks to run for office without questioning the candidate's ability to do the work required or meet the qualifications, he said.
Republican leaders lavished money on Bill Albracht's ultimately unsuccessful campaign to unseat state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.
At $1.7 million, the race was the second most expensive in the state, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, with Mr. Albracht raising close to $650,000, in large part because of hefty contributions from Republican fundraising committees.
"We ran a hard campaign; we ran a clean campaign," Mr. Albracht said. "There is nothing that I would have done differently, save winning the race."
Rock Island County Board member Mike McColl, R-Moline, who lost his seat on Tuesday, was surprised by how many people voted a straight Democratic ticket.
"That's what killed us," he said, adding even he split his ticket to vote for a "couple of Democrats."
Democrat Cheri Bustos, who beat Rep. Schilling, won35,353 votes in Rock Island County, or 90 percent of the 39,081 votes secured by President Barack Obama in the county.
John McGehee, the Democratic candidate for state's attorney, won37,893 votes; state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, won33,960; and Democratic recorder candidate Kelly Fisher won38,380, indicating a high percentage of straight party voting.
Nearly 72 percent of voters supported reducing the size of the county board in Tuesday's referendum, a Republican proposal, and one many Democrats opposed.
"That's my silver lining," said Mr. McColl, who led the push to get the question on the ballot.
Republicans did win five seats on the county board, their highest number since 1972, but still far short of a majority on the 25-member board.
Mr. McColl was in Florida this week, and Rep. Morthland was in Mexico. When they and other Republicans have had some time to lick their wounds, they will discuss what went wrong for Republicans.
"We agreed that we are going to sit down in the next few weeks and figure this out," said Ms. Carpentier, who wants to remain local party chairwoman.
The party soon will begin looking at candidates to run in future elections, she said.
"If they'll have me, I'll stay on," she said. "This didn't knock the fight out of me."
Mr. Holland said he retains full faith in Ms. Carpentier's ability to lead the party but has heard rumblings from others about whether she'll stay in control.
"I hope she stays on, but I know that there have been murmurings across the county," he said. "All I can tell people is you can't blame one person for how the election went for Republicans in a Democratic county."
Next week: How Democrats won big in Rock Island County.